Penne a la vodka

By | February 19, 2013


This recipe and story first appeared in the Feb. 18, 2013 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine. On newsstands now!

Purim cooking tends to be all about the hamentaschen, but I think it’s more interesting to find ways to incorporate alcohol into cooking and baking. I’m not a drinker (as the story below makes clear), but things like vodka and beer can do wonders to a dish. Like where this is going? Check out my vodka amaretto cake and honey beer bread muffins.

I love Purim. I hate the drinking.

The alcohol part of Purim always seemed like the only blip on the screen of an otherwise perfect day. I’m the type of person who thinks about Purim all year because I can’t stop coming up with themes for costumes and mishloach manot, even at times when other people have Pesach, summer vacation, or back-to-school season on the brain.

My husband and I reach a point – still months away from Purim – when we have too many ideas to remember on our own. This necessitates starting an official Purim Google doc to keep notes on potentially-needed costume items and recipes that would work for specific mishloach manot themes. (As you’ve probably guessed, this is more my thing than his. But he totally plays along.)

Our Purim brainstorming was one of the things that kept my spirits up during those nauseous early months when I was expecting for the first time. If I had thought it was fun to come up with couples costumes for our first two Purims together, it was even better to think of the many adorable ways in which I could dress a family of three. (I’ll tell you what we finally chose in a blog post later this week.)


Purim is such an upbeat, happy time that it was never hard for me to find things to like about it. Except for all that drinking!

While I recognize that many (most?) people are sincere in trying to fulfill ad d’lo yada, that doesn’t make it any easier to watch. I find it uncomfortable and unsettling to see some yeshiva students, neighbors, and community leaders – people I would generally respect and trust – lose their inhibitions, “get silly,” and possibly get sick. And somehow, it passes as acceptable.

Yes, we should be happy on Purim. But who exactly is happy about a drunk guest getting sick in her living room? Who is happy to watch her husband and sons lose control of their normal sensitivities, perhaps in the presence of young children? And does any woman enjoy clearing the remains of the seuda while trying to care for a bunch of sugar-high kids in clown costumes and a husband moaning on the couch?

I suspect that most women whose husbands drink figure they just have to grin and bear it – or if they can’t grin, at least put up with it and get through the day. (Of course, I’m sure there are also women who don’t mind the drinking, or who genuinely enjoy their husbands’ antics. But I’d guess that they’re not in the majority.)


My father never got drunk, on Purim or otherwise, and I’ve never seen my brothers drink, either. As a teen, I hoped that whoever I married would fulfill ad d’lo yada in a way that I wouldn’t find scary. (That wasn’t on the Top Ten list of qualities I wanted in a husband, but it would probably have made Top Twenty!)

And so far, my husband has earned high marks. On both of the Purim days that have passed since our wedding, he became tipsy – and yes, a bit silly – but not in an unsettling way. The most that came of it was a Purim-themed limerick that he wrote and recited on the spot.

I imagine that many men also fit into the oft-cited category of a “Torah drunk” – the person whose lower inhibitions have him saying divrei Torah more freely, not contributing to a toxic atmosphere. I often view things in black and white, and that kind of thinking had me equating any alcohol consumption with a frightening, drunken stupor. I’ve learned, though, that drinking does not necessarily make a drunk, and that downing a glass or two (or three…) of wine does not mean the same thing for every person. As with anything in life, you have to know yourself. And you have to be able to trust that your husband knows himself.


Purim’s take-away message is often described as a lesson in seeing the Yad Hashem even when it isn’t obvious. But for me, Purim has also become a lesson in trusting my husband, recognizing that he knows his limits and will not exceed them.

After all, if the extra wine just means limericks and extra divrei Torah, that’s something I can handle.


If you want to include spirits at your Purim table without worrying about how much your guests are drinking, try serving penne a la vodka, a dairy main dish alternative for a lighter seuda.

In this quick and easy recipe, steaming hot pasta is mixed with a creamy tomato-based sauce that uses vodka as its secret ingredient. Don’t worry, though – the alcohol cooks off while the sauce simmers, leaving only a subtle flavor that deepens the taste of the sauce.

One year ago: Oriental pepper salad


Gail Weinstein (Benji Gablers Mom) on February 19, 2013 at 7:23 am.

Penne a la vodka looks great for my daughter…
I get so confused in the Israeli dairy refrigerator and supermarket
Could you please give me the l supermarket local brands and flavors you use for marinara sauce, cheese and sour cream. then I’ll get right to work. This looks great! Purim sameach!


Tali Simon on February 19, 2013 at 12:39 pm.

Sure. I use:

* Marinara: Square red plastic containers with peel-off tops, about 250 grams each. Some tops have pictures of pizza on the top, others have pictures of a plate of pasta — either is fine.

* Shredded mozzarella: Pizzarella Italkit by Yavneh, 500-gram bags, red plastic bag with green and white writing.

* Sour cream: Shamenet by Tnuva, sold in white plastic containers about the size of a yogurt container. Has a peel-off top with light green writing and contains a little less than 1 cup of sour cream. You’ll probably see them in three different fat percentages; I always use the middle percentage.

You’re not the only one who gets confused with the dairy products here! Good luck!


jessica (the kosher foodies) on February 19, 2013 at 2:45 pm.

this is one of my favorite sauces to eat and make! thanks for sharing your recipe


stephanie/the kosher foodies on February 20, 2013 at 12:08 am.

i love vodka sauce, it’s great on pizza too!


Tali Simon on February 20, 2013 at 5:41 am.

Ooh, good idea!


Hindy on February 20, 2013 at 5:43 pm.

This is one of my favorite comfort food fishes when I want to indulge a bit.


Rena on February 21, 2013 at 8:05 pm.

Such an important and well-said post regarding drinking on Purim. My husband doesn’t drink on Purim (he is driving us to the seudah!) and I am so grateful.

The penne looks delicious and I was just thinking about making some!


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